Domestic abusers to be denied firearms licences

The Police in England and Wales have been advised that a person's suitability to hold a firearms licence needs to be reviewed after an incident of domestic violence.

The new guidance for firearms certificates is designed to make it easier for police to prevent a person suspected of domestic violence from owning a gun. It sets out that "general evidence (including a history) of domestic violence and abuse will indicate that an individual should not be permitted to possess a firearm or shotgun", though the police will be required to assess each case on its merits.

The tighter guidelines have been issued in response to the case of Michael Atherton who was approved by police to own shotguns even though he had received warnings in respect of incidents of domestic abuse. On New Years Day 2012 he shot and killed his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnball, and Alison's daughter Tanya Turnball.

Police were already required to obtain independent character references in respect of someone applying for a firearms licence, as well as speak to a GP, and in some cases Social Services. The new rules set out that the police should also speak to family members to see if they have any concerns about the applicant owning a weapon, and in particular, if they have any knowledge of the applicant having a history of domestic violence. Any partners of the applicants who may have been victims of domestic violence should also be interviewed.

While the guidance is not a blanket ban on gun ownership for anyone who has a history of domestic violence, it does empower police in England and Wales to deny a firearms licence application where such a history exists, and to review an existing licence after a new incident of domestic abuse.

If you require legal advice in respect of domestic violence or abuse contact one of the specialist solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 1363.